Located in the heart of Transylvania, only a few short hours away from Bucharest, is Romania’s famous winter capital – Brasov. This wonderfully preserved medieval city is the gateway to the Carpathian Mountains and a great place to spend a few days exploring.
I spent two months living here and I wanted to share with you the best things to do in Brasov so that you can make the most of your visit and have the best experience possible.
The city is known for being the winter capital of Romania because of its access to many different ski hills and the high number of ski resorts located throughout the mountains nearby.
Whether you are visiting Brasov for the skiing, hiking or you just want to stroll through medieval, cobblestone streets you are bound to leave with a smile on your face and countless photos on your camera.
The Best Things to Do in Brasov During Your Visit
The Old Town Square
Located right in the heart of the city is the Old Town Square. This is the best place to start exploring the city from.
Known locally as Council Square, this area has been regularly used since the early 16th century. From then until now it has acted as a place for local merchants to sell their goods.
The Square has a tumultuous history including being a popular area for gallows as well as a place where suspected witches were tortured and punished.
Another interesting fact is that until 1892 there were two large wells right in the center of the Square that provided water for most of the people living in the surrounding city center.
The biggest building in the square today is the Council House. It was built in 1420 and it’s still used as the main administration center for the city.
From here it is a short walk to many other attractions and popular tourist spots.
The Black Church
A few short steps away from the Old Town Square is the Black Church. This church, which dominates one end of the Square, was designed and built by the local German/Saxon community in the 15th century.
It’s one of the most notable and recognizable Gothic style monuments in Romania and is the largest Lutheran church in Eastern Europe. One of the most impressive features of the Black Church is the 6-ton bell and another notable feature is the 4000 pipe organ that was built in 1839 and is still used today.
Many of the sculptures and architectural details on the outside of the church have deteriorated but it’s still an interesting building to walk by and take some photos of. Inside the church, if it’s open on the date you visit, you will find many pieces of religious artwork and some murals and carpets from the Saxon occupation. Without a doubt, the Black Church is one of the most impressive religious structures in Europe and the most recognizable tourist sight in Brasov.
The reason it is called the Black Church is because in 1689 a fire nearly destroyed the entire thing and what was left was blackened by the smoke and flames. People would still go to worship and pray and it gained its name since it took nearly 100 years for it to be completely renovated and restored while still remaining completely blacked.
You can enter the church between 10 AM and 5 PM every day as long as it isn’t undergoing any renovations. The entrance fee is 4 Lei and keep in mind that taking photos or videos isn’t allowed.
One of the not so well known things to do in Brasov is the Brasov fortress. Located on a small hill just outside of the Old Town are the remains of the Brasov fortress. Built in 1524 the fortress was used to shelter the citizens of the city during any enemy invasions or attacks and provided a view of the surrounding area to warn the locals of any incoming armies.
The walls and towers were continuously upgraded until the 17th century, when the fortress was abandoned. The defensive position was moved to Rasnov since it offered a better view of the surrounding area and was less susceptible to cannon fire. For nearly 300 years the fortress remained essentially unused.
Today, the fortress is home to a restaurant and offers some of the best views of the city below. You can still see many of the defensive fortifications, parts of the old city wall and it’s a great place to walk around for a few hours and relive some of Brasov’s history.
Explore the Quiet Streets of Scheii, the Hidden Neighborhood of Brasov
Directly outside of the Old Town is the residential district of Scheii. It is here that the local Romanians were forced to live during the Saxon occupation between the 13th and 17th century. During this time Romanians were allowed to own property inside of the city walls and had to build their homes and live outside of the gates. The Scheii Gate that you pass through on your way to this neighborhood was the only entrance that the Romanians could use with the other four entrances being used only by the Saxons.
Unlike the spaced out, grid pattern of the Old Town, the Scheii neighborhood is full of long, winding streets that are crisscrossed with tucked away alleys and narrow passageways. Romanians have been living in this part of Brasov for hundreds of years and it is clear that they are proud of their history and heritage with all the flags flying above doorways and on street corners. You can also find the first Romanian school next to the gorgeous St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
Keep an eye out for all of the different and interestingly designed door handles and knockers that are on the brightly painted houses. To this day the Romanians living in this neighborhood take pride in their thoughtfully constructed and elegantly built homes. If you’re looking to beat the tourist crowds head to the small square in the very center of Scheii and you’ll be able to relax here without the noise and groups of the people in the Old Town.
Hike Up Tampa Mountain
Towering high above the Old Town is Tampa Mountain. From up here you will have some incredible views of the Old Town and the surrounding areas. As it is a natural area you can expect to find many different birds and even large mammals such as the Brown bear, boar or even a lynx.
if you choose to hike up to the top you will walk along a wide, winding path that slowly brings you to the summit. At a regular pace it will take about one hour to hike to the top but you should budget for more time if you want to stop to take photos or relax. From the top you can hike to many other areas in the surrounding Carpathian Mountains or relax and enjoy a drink at the panoramic restaurant.
An interesting fact about Tampa Mountain is that in the 1950s many of the trees on the hillside were cut down to spell out Stalin’s name. The area is now a natural preserve but you can still make out some of the letters from his name in the winter months when only a few of the trees retain their leaves. As always, when hiking anywhere wooded in Romania, watch out for bears.
The Narrowest Street in Europe
Locally known as Strada Sfori, this street is one of the narrowest streets in all of Europe. It is more like a passageway than a street since it’s unlikely that any cars couldn’t even drive down it but it’s still a fun and quirky place to visit in Brasov.
The street was designed as a passageway for firemen to use in order to make it quickly through the Old Town without having to rush down the longer city streets. It was first mentioned during the 17th century and today it’s fun to visit and see all of the tourists spreading their arms and touching each wall for a photo.
In case you’re wondering the street is 44 inches wide at its narrowest and stretches only 80 m in length. It’s basically a narrow and short corridor that runs between two streets and other than the photo opportunity and slight historic value there isn’t much else to see or do once you’re there.
Explore the Old Fortifications
At the foot of Tampa Mountain you will find a few remaining watchtowers and the old city wall still standing. These are part of the well preserved medieval fortifications that once were used to defend the city center. The construction of these fortifications began in 1395 and renovations weren’t finished until the mid-17th century. When it was fully operational the fortress walls had more than eight bastions and nearly 30 watchtowers were in use. You can still visit some of the watchtowers and bastions today.
The towers are more spread out throughout the city center but the best preserved portion of the wall is right below Tampa Mountain along the promenade. The defensive fortifications were used until the late 19th century and became obsolete as the city grew well beyond the city walls.
Today there are many restaurants and even a tennis court built into the old fortifications but it’s still a cool place to explore and check out. On the Promenade are some great places to relax and, if you don’t feel like hiking up to the top of Tampa Mountain, you can enjoy a great view of the city from here.
Go On a Free Guided City Tour
There isn’t a better way to introduce yourself to a new city than a free guided walking tour. Walkabout Tours is the most reliable and popular choice for a walking tour in Brasov and I personally recommend them if you’re looking to learn more about the history and culture of the city.
The tour guides are all very knowledgeable and speak fluent English so you’re bound to enjoy yourself while strolling through the Old Town and learning more about all the sights and attractions in the city center. The tours run everyday starting at 10 AM regardless of the weather conditions so be sure to dress appropriately.
The tours can take up to 2 1/2 hours in length and you are guaranteed to visit all of the top destinations in Brasov. As always, the free guided city tours don’t cost anything but tips are definitely appreciated and I recommend tipping at least 10 or 20 Lei.
Take the Tampa Cable Car to the Brasov Sign
If you don’t feel like spending an hour hiking up to the top of Tampa Mountain there is an exciting alternative route that you can take. Near the entrance to the Promenade, closest to the Old Town, is the Tampa Mountain cable car. This is a cable car, or telecabina, that brings you from the foot of the mountain to the very top. Along the entire journey you will have some good views of the Old Town and of the forest below.
Once you reach the top it is only a five minute walk to the famous Brasov sign. Tickets for the cable car cost 16 Lei but the price increases every year so be sure to bring a little bit of extra money just in case. I recommend taking a cable car earlier in the day to avoid the crowds and walking back down so that you can save a bit of money and enjoy some of the beautiful hiking trails in the area.
Visit Dracula’s Castle on a Day Trip
If you’re looking for one of the best day trips from Brasov you’ll want to head to Dracula’s Castle.
Its actual name is Bran Castle, and there isn’t even any evidence that Dracula ever step foot in the place, but Romania’s tourism board decided they needed to brand something with his name and they chose Bran Castle as that place.
It’s only a 30-minute drive from the city center of Brasov and there are many different tours and busses heading there every day as well.
Bran Castle was built sometime in the early 14th century after the previous castle on the same location was destroyed. It was used by the Saxons to defend against the Ottomans as well as to defend the border between the regions of Wallachia and Transylvania.
After hundreds of years of changing ownership Bran Castle finally opened to the public in 2009. Today you can tour the grounds and interior of the castle for 25 Lei. If you’re looking for something spooky to check out or you’re interested in experiencing a piece of Romanian history then I suggest visiting Bran Castle on a day trip.
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